Friday, October 29, 2010

More on Motherhood

It's hard for me to say which chapter of Bittersweet by Shauna Neiquist is my favorite. But today there are two that stand out in my mind. What Might Have Been, where Shauna describes her feelings on what would have been her due date if she had not miscarried and On Crying in the Bathroom, where she talks about her feelings on the one-year anniversary of the day she learned she was pregnant with the baby she had miscarried.

In What Might Have Been, Shauna tells the story of Kristin who, as a young single woman, attends many of her friends' weddings. At each of those weddings, she "dances and laughs and hugs and smiles for pictures, and then, at one point or another, she slips away and lets a few tears fall for the maid of honor who will never stand at her wedding someday." You see, Kristin's sister, after years of planning to be each other's maid of honor, had taken her own life. Now, even though Kristin (who is engaged) rejoices with her friends at their weddings, grieves over "what might have been."

It's the way women who can't seem to get pregnant rejoice with their friends who do. And it's the way I rejoice with friends who's kids get married, graduate college or join the military. I'm so happy for them, I really am, and I want to celebrate with them, but it's hard. It's like what Shauna writes in On Crying In The Bathroom  about her friends who have unplanned pregnancies, "O really? Oh, boo hoo for you. How terrible that your body is so strong and healthy and working so well that it makes you babies when you don't even want them. I'm spending hours online reading long conspiracy theories about everything from antibiotics in milk to too much time in the hot tub, and in the meantime, your lush, perfect, fertile body just went ahead and started growing a baby without your even asking it to. Take your bursting belly of love and your fabulous pregnant cleavage away from me because I feel as withered and dried up and hollowed out as a dead tree stump, and all your glittering pregnantness makes me want to cry in the bathroom all over again."

Now Shauna's not really that cruel, she's just being brutally honest about how she feels. And we would never be so cruel to say those kinds of things to our friends because we do honestly want to celebrate with them when they have reason to celebrate, whether it's a pregnancy or a successful adult child. As Shauna says, "I'll celebrate with my friends. I'll hold babies and buy baby gifts, ask them what it's like for them and really listen to the answer. I'll do it because it's the right thing to do." And I'll add, because our hearts do rejoice with them--only our hearts have these huge gaping wounds in them that cause us tremendous pain, even as we rejoice. It's such a conflicted feeling because the two extremes don't want to occupy the same space.

So I'll try not to wince when my friends talk about their sons who are home from the military or their daughters who are having babies. I'll do my best to hide the pain as my nephew graduates from West Point just like I do every time one of my nieces or nephews graduates high school or gets married or succeeds in any way. I'll cover my hurt when my friends talk about the joys of being a grandparent, when I don't get that luxury.

Friends and family, please know that I am rejoicing with you--I do want to celebrate with you, but please don't take it personally if you notice a twinge of pain come across my face or if I can't bring myself to attend your daughter's wedding--and please don't feel you can't invite me or talk with me about your joys! I want to be involved in your kids' lives! I want to celebrate with you! Please just love me anyway, maybe give me an extra hug and let me go cry in the bathroom for a little while. I'll be all right, I might just need a little space.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Mother's Heart: God's Amazing Design

This weekend I read Shauna Niequist's book, Bittersweet.On Saturday night it was late, I was tired, and I tried to go to bed, but I was haunted by the epilogue and several of the  chapters of Shauna's book. I had read her book more quickly than I usually read. It resonated with me on so many levels. But the epilogue was the real kicker. So, Saturday night, I wrote a letter to Shauna. I'm not sure if I'll ever send it or if she would read it even if I did. But I need to share this with someone, so I'm sharing it with you (whoever you are!)

Dear Shauna,

I just finished reading Bittersweet. It's late on Saturday night and I can't sleep after reading the epilogue of your book. As I read it, I said to God, as I've said to Him many times before, "How much can a mother's heart take!?" I cried for your twins. I cried for you. Like yours, my motherhood has been assaulted, not in the same way, but equally painful and tragically.

As I asked God how much a mother's heart could take... again... especially just as it's realizing new life again, to have it ripped away, I realized something. God created a mother's heart to be amazingly resilient. It can take such a brutal beating and yet continue to hope. It can be so severely wounded and yet never stop trying to nurture life. It never stops taking the risk of being hurt again. Even when we know the pain and brokenness that can come from our children or from the loss of them, we risk it all  to try again. We know we may be devastated again, and yet we continue trying to nurture life.

I lost my 15-year-old daughter in a car accident six years ago. My son has been fighting a raging battle with addiction for almost as long. My heart cries for him daily. I grieve more for him than I do for my daughter after six years of her being gone.

Even with all the excruciating pain that I've felt for my two older kids, my husband and I are risking it all again and adopting our granddaughter (our son's daughter.) She bears the same name and many of the same features of our daughter. Our son wanted to honor his sister by naming his daughter after her. It's easier now, but at first, it hurt every time I said her name.

I know the risks. I know there are no guarantees. I know there's a chance I could be devastated for a third time, and yet I choose to hope. I choose to take the risk and the leap of faith. My husband and I chose to take this leap because we know it's not about us. We must take the chance so that she can have a chance at life. That's what parents do. That's what mothers do.

God created our hearts to be tender, loving and nurturing, but he also built in a belligerent, undying hope that won't quit. It's why we're called Steel Magnolias. (I love that movie!)

And so, after may battles in prayer, sometimes shaking my fist at God and begging his forgiveness at the same time, I place my trust firmly in Him and I hope unswervingly. I have hope for my son... that my miracle-working God can and will deliver him from the incredibly powerful talons of addiction. I hope unswervingly for my daughter, who is the lucky one. She gets to be in His presence. And I hope unswervingly for my granddaughter, soon to be my daughter, that she will become the young woman God created her to be. I hope unswervingly that every battle scar I bear, every wound my heart has born will be worth it. I choose to hope.

Thanks for writing Bittersweet. I know it speaks to many women, young and old, mothers and those who want so desperately to be mothers. I'll be looking for more to come from Shauna Neiquist!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

God In a Box? Not!

This morning, our pastor finished the sermon series, "Fearless," based on Max Lucado's book by the same name. This chapter/sermon describe much of my spiritual journey the past few years... "Fear of Getting God Out of the Box!"

Both Max and my pastor talk about Jesus and the transfiguration. Jesus blew away the box that Peter, James and John had him in prior to Mount Hermon. Lucado describes it as Jesus peeling back his epidermis. He quotes Thomas Howard, saying that Jesus revealed himself as, "a towering and furious figure who will not be managed." I love those word pictures of my Jesus! He will NOT be put in a box (no matter how hard I try)!

As my pastor encouraged us to let God out of the boxes we put him in--our expectations and misperceptions of Him--I wanted to try to put a name to my box. The box I securely kept God in until the past few years was, "Being good = Smooth life." In other words, "If I do everything right, checking off all my boxes of good spiritual disciplines, God will answer all my prayers the way I expect them to be answered."

Without realizing it, I had major expectations on the ways I wanted God to answer my prayers. When they didn't match up, I had a huge spiritual crisis. It took ten years and three major family crises before it erupted into a full-blown crisis of faith.

We had always had regular family issues, but, being an eternal optimist (or the queen of denial depending on how you look at it), I prayerfully stuck my head in the sand and waited for things to work themselves out. "This too shall pass," I would say. I believed that one day God would show up and life would be perfect!

When I realized that things were not passing, or if one did, a worse issue replaced it... when life on planet earth was not getting better... when my daughter's life on planet earth actually ended... when my son's problems went from typical teenage rebellion to serious addiction... when my granddaughter was placed in foster care and I had no say in the matter... I lost it! I really lost it!

My husband and others tried to encourage me by saying, "God is in control." In my rage, I said things like, "I'm sick of God being in control because He's not doing a very good job!"

I know, I can see the headlines now, "Crazy Woman on the Verge of Blasphemy Gets Struck by Lightning!" And I so deserved that! But God, in His infinite mercy, did not strike me dead. Neither did He budge and make everything go my way. What He did do was reveal a little more of himself to me. I had no choice but to get him out of the box I had worked so diligently to keep Him in. I could no longer stand on the lid of that box spouting empty words of "faith" that pointed more toward my good works than to God's faithfulness. He was out of that box and there was no getting Him back in.

Through all that, the following revelations became clear to me...
  • God is in control and I am not! (stunning, I know)
  • God is not going to answer my prayers according to my will, but according to His
  • God may allow me and those I love to get hurt or even die as He answers my prayers
  • The smooth life won't come this side of heaven. That's a bummer, I know, but this short life on earth is but a blink compared to eternity. I'd rather have a blink of discomfort and an eternity of comfort than the other way around!
These may not be major revelations to you, but they were to me. I am just thankful to know that, no matter what happens, God is with me, and nothing this life throws at me can take that away. And that is My Unswerving Hope!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bouts with Doubt

I just finished my favorite chapter so far of Max Lucado's book, Fearless.

Today's chapter is about the one fear I can relate to most (so far) in Fearless, "Fear That God is Not Real." That is a doosey for me. In my former life, my shallow Christian walk, my life before my faith was vehemently tried and shaken, I would never have spoken those words out loud. I would never have admitted that I had that secret fear. I would have condemned anyone who said they did. I'd have distanced myself from that person, secretly fearing that they might say or do something that would destroy my fragile faith.

But after having my faith shaken to the core and yet surviving, faith in tact... having shaken my fist in the face of God without getting struck by lightning... having questioned God and getting answers that were not what I wanted, but that redirected my attention away from myself and back to God, I can admit this fear. I can now admit that there have been times in the darkest nights that I have cried out to God, voice shaking and tears streaming, "Your promises better be true and You better be for real!"

God has been so gentle with me during those times when I questioned Him and my faith...when I was tempted to give it all up. He was tender with me when I gritted my teeth and accused Him of not caring... of being a cruel, hard-hearted God... of expecting and demanding more from me than I could ever give. He was tender and gentle yet He didn't budge. He didn't patronize me. He didn't give me what I wanted. He didn't change His mind or my circumstances. He had compassion on me. He wept when I wept. He hurt when I hurt. I believe His heart broke when mine broke. But He never backed down. He never gave in. He never let me take the easy road of escape. He continued expecting and demanding more from me than I felt I could give.

That was a distinct turning point in my life when my faith became real. It became much more than talk for me. That turning point was the death of my daughter. At that time I needed to be brutally honest with myself and with God. I needed much more than a faith of words. I had no words of faith for myself that could heal my hurt or restore my hope. I needed a touch from God... a deep inner healing of  heart so wounded, so broken, for which words alone could do nothing. I needed a supernatural touch, a supernatural word.

At that time, I felt like the curtain between my world and heaven was torn for just a little while. Just a small tear, not enough for either of us to pass through, but just enough for some of heaven to leak out and heal my brokenness. It's hard to put into words. There were no visions, no transfigurations, but I felt much closer to heaven and eternity during those early weeks and months of learning to live life without my daughter.

Now you would think that after a time like that, my faith would be rock solid, never another doubt to penetrate it. But, just like the Children of Israel, each time a challenge threatens my trust in Him, I have to remind myself of what God has done and the healing He has brought.

Today I was comforted to hear from a man of God like Max Lucado, a man who has written so many inspiring books about God, that he, too, has bouts with doubt. I'm thinking I'm in good company. And what a relief to be able to admit it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming Down from the Mountain

We Christians love mountain top experiences! We love the elation--the awesome presence of God--the emotional excitement! We want to stay there forever, but oh, how selfish of us. We are blessed with mountain top experiences, and there is a purpose for them, but we cannot stay there forever!

The reason for our mountain top experiences with God is that "afterwards [we] may get down among the demon possessed and lift them up." Chambers says our "Spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mount." Spiritual selfishness... ouch! When we are in those moments, we feel like we could do anything. But what good would those times be if we never came down from them? They would mean nothing to anyone but me. They would never reach anyone but me, and that goes against everything God wants to do through His people on earth. Yet again, "It's not about me!" The real work of the gospel happens in the trenches, not on the mountain tops. The mountain tops prepare us for the trenches. And if we never put to use what we learn on the mountain top, it is all for naught! It is wasted.

"We must be able to mount up with wings as eagles; but we must also know how to come down. The power of the saint is in the coming down and living down," says Oswald.

When I am on the mountain top, I say all kinds of things like, "I can do all things though Christ," and "I'll serve You however You call me to serve," and "Whatever it takes, Lord!" But what happens when the thing God is calling me to is humiliation? What if it means I must lose everything--every comfort--every support--even loved ones who I thought I could protect? What then? Will I still say, "I can do all things," when I feel that I cannot bear the thing that life has laid on me?  Will I still say, "I'll serve You however You call me to serve," when the thing He's called me to do is take care of a sick loved one or clean a disgusting house? Will I still say, "Whatever it takes, Lord!" when my loved one dies, or worse yet, becomes trapped in a life of addiction or homelessness?

"It takes the valley of humiliation to root skepticism out of us. Look back at your own experience, and you will find that until you learned Who Jesus was, you were a cunning skeptic about His power. When you were on the mount, you could believe anything, but what about the time when you were up against facts in the valley?" --Oswald Chambers

I've been through a couple of dark valleys and Jesus was so faithful to reveal Himself to me through those times.I wish I could say that I know Him completely now and that I'll never doubt Him again. Yet every time I'm faced with a new valley, I realize I'm not there yet. There is so much more of Jesus to be revealed. So much of Him that I don't yet know or understand. Does that mean more valleys lie ahead for me? Probably. Does that give me warm fuzzies? No, it certainly does not. But I do know that He will be Whoever I need Him to be during those times--that He will walk with me through whatever valley I must walk through--that He will never leave me nor forsake me--and that is my unswerving hope. Is it yours?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Broken Bread and Poured Out Wine

Oswald Chambers talks alot about being broken bread and poured out wine. If we are the body of Christ, then that is what we should be--broken and poured out.

"But you can't drink grapes..." says Oswald. They must be crushed. So, not only do we need to be broken, we must be crushed. "God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with."

There are several families and individuals close to me who are going through crushing circumstances right now. My first reaction is to ask God to take away the pain, to heal, to fix what is broken. But is that really what He wants me to pray?

In our study of Revelation this week, Beth Moore talked about how every letter to each of the seven churches includes a promise to those who overcome. We can never be overcomers if we have nothing difficult in our lives. She encouraged us to stop begging God to make life easy and, instead, ask Him to help us overcome.

Life on planet earth can be crushing. There are many obstacles to overcome. Huge grievances to be forgiven. But one thing we can be sure of, Jesus will never leave our sides. Through all the breaking, crushing and overcoming, He is right in our midst, and as much as we may not want to hear it, there is a purpose for our suffering.

"No enthusiasm will ever stand the strain that Jesus Christ will put upon His worker. Only one thing will, and that is a personal relationship to Himself which has gone through  the mill of His spring cleaning until there is only one purpose left--I am here for God to send me where He will. Every other thing may get fogged, but this relationship to Jesus Christ must never be." Oswald Chambers

"These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them for He is Lord of lords and King of kings and those who are with Him are called, chosen and faithful." Revelation 17:14

If I really believe this, I'll stop begging God to take away all pain and suffering and I'll ask Him to reveal Himself to each of us in the midst of our pain and suffering. God grant us a revelation of You--enlighten the eyes of our hearts toward You. Help us to seek you in the midst of our brokenness instead of seeking to remain unbroken. Help us not to resist Your crushing thumb and forefinger or escape your spring cleaning. But help us to work with You in the crushing, breaking and cleansing so that one day we will be, like you, overcomers who are called, chosen and faithful.